Review of PPS response to the review of related Sexual Abuse and Terrorism Cases

Publication: 10/10/17
Inspectors report on progress by PPS in implementing Starmer Recommendations


The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland has today (10 October 2017) published an independent assessment of work undertaken by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to address the recommendations made by Sir Keir Starmer, KCB QC in his 2015 report.

The Starmer Review looked at the PPS' handling and conduct of two related sexual abuse and terrorism cases that did not proceed.  It made nine recommendations for improvement.
 
"This independent review was carried out at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, QC by Inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) with support from colleagues from Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) in England and Wales," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
 
"It assessed four of the Starmer recommendations to have been achieved. These recommendations were focused around making sure staff within the PPS and counsel working on their behalf, received training around the PPS' policies on Victims and Witnesses and the Prosecution of Rape Cases.
 
"They also included recommendations to ensure that as a case progressed, the PPS kept the prospect of conviction under review and that prosecution counsel had a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities and the expectations upon them," he said.
 
Mr McGuigan indicated Inspectors had assessed progress made in implementing a further five recommendations as substantial on four occasions and limited in relation to one recommendation.
 
"The Starmer Review recommended the PPS review its Victims and Witnesses Policy with a view to improving its communication with victims and witnesses around major decisions, and that it enhance its recording of decisions and discussions with prosecuting counsel," said the Chief Inspector.
 
Inspectors found that while the PPS Victims and Witnesses Policy had been reviewed, the quality of letters sent by the PPS to victims varied.  Inconsistencies were also identified in relation to the level, detail and location of records kept within the file sample reviewed by Inspectors.
 
"I am concerned that while there were some excellent examples of empathetic letters sent to victims which explained decisions in an easy to understand manner, just under half of the correspondence was assessed by Inspectors not to be sufficiently empathetic.
 
"The issue of communication with victims and witnesses and record keeping are areas which CJI has highlighted in the past and one which we will return to as part of future inspection work on domestic violence and abuse and sexual violence and abuse," said Mr McGuigan.
 
The PPS was found to have taken steps to improve its case planning and strategic thinking around complex cases.  It had also developed new case management procedures.  However, while Inspectors found guidance issued to staff to support these changes was clear, there was a need to further embed the benefits of this approach within the organisation.
 
Concluding his remarks Mr McGuigan said: "The establishment of a Serious Crime Unit within the PPS to deal with the most serious cases including murder, manslaughter and sexual offences is an encouraging development. 
 
"In the last two years the PPS has undergone extensive organisational and structural change and I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the PPS, or the considerable efforts of the senior management team to implement necessary changes identified internally and by the Starmer Review.
 
"I welcome the steps taken to date to meet the requirements of the Starmer recommendations but I believe the PPS is on a journey which is not yet complete.  Further work is required to address inconsistencies between policy and practice, embed the changes and fully embrace the spirit of the Starmer recommendations across the organisation," said Mr McGuigan.